Conference Recap: Literacy, Technology, and Data – What is the Connection?

Thanks so much to all of you who came out to our 9th Annual Conference last week. We raised over $10,000 in the silent auction to help support our educational projects in Afghanistan and Kenya this year. Guests with the winning bids went home with theatre and hockey tickets, restaurant vouchers, store gift cards and wine. One lucky participant bought a dinner with Kim Thuy, award winning author of Ru and Man. We also presented a cheque for $280,000 to our partner in Kenya, Free The Children, and a $80,000 cheque to our partner in Afghanistan, CARE Canada. For more information on the projects this money will fund, please visit our web page: www.60milliongirls.org. Conference Our speakers illustrated so perfectly the roles that both large and small organizations have in getting vulnerable children into the classroom, ensuring they stay in school and that they get a quality education. Bev Carrick, Co-Founder of CAUSE Canada, spoke about her organization’s efforts to get kids to school in Sierra Leone. Sheena Bell, from the UNESCO Institute for Statistics, told us about the importance of getting the right data to be able to construct appropriate programs for children and families who face different barriers to schooling depending on where they live. Both are so important in the process of reaching Universal Primary Education. Where were the girls? When Bev and her colleagues at CAUSE Canada were building schools for children in Sierra Leone in the aftermath of that country’s civil war, they realized that girls, many of whom had been victimized or coerced into fighting as child soldiers, were far less present in school than the boys. Where were they?

CAUSE decided to implement a peer literacy program to give girls the confidence to come to school. Not only did this strategy get more girls into the classroom, it also created a virtuous circle: the younger ones learned from their older classmates through a mentoring program and in return, CAUSE gave the older girls the financial help they needed for tuition, books and uniforms, to continue on to secondary school. A win-win for all.

A small organization has the flexibility to innovate and find new ways to improve educational outcomes. Together, CAUSE and the 60 million girls Foundation implemented a pilot project with an inexpensive mini server called Raspberry Pi (photo below). We downloaded math and science tutorials along with an encyclopedia on the server which was then connected to computers in the Learning Centre in Sierra Leone. The girls could use these educational programs after school for two hours per week.

The objective was to see if “self directed learning” led to improved educational outcomes. In other words, are children able to teach themselves some of the basic skills which the teacher may not have time to cover? In communities where qualified and motivated teachers are hard to come by, and where large class sizes make individualized teaching and learning difficult, we hope that the appropriate use of technology may be a way to fill some of the gaps. We are still analysing the results. More details about our pilot project methodology, objectives and results to follow in a later post. The outbreak of Ebola in Sierra Leone has put a damper on regular schooling as all schools have had to close to prevent the spread on infection. Groups larger than 15 are not permitted to meet. However, the children in the communities CAUSE works in will have access to the educational software 60 million girls provided for the pilot projects. CAUSE will be keeping the Learning Centre open on a full time basis so kids can have access to the computers and tutorials – an unexpected positive side effect of our small project. What do the data tell us?

Sheena Bell from the UNESCO Institute for Statistics (UIS) showed us the importance of data in gauging the outcomes of policies and improving learning. As we’ve mentioned in previous blog posts, Universal Primary Education is a key development objective. At the moment, there are 58 million primary aged children who do not attend school, over half of whom live in Sub-Saharan Africa. Yet, within Sub-Saharan Africa there are countries with better outcomes than others. Ghana has (just) 12% of primary aged children out of school and in Rwanda it is just 1.3%. Niger, on the other hand, has an out of school rate of 36% for girls and boys. Successes are possible, though to achieve them, it’s important to prioritize and find ways innovative ways to ensure that all children have access to quality education, with trained teachers and sufficient learning materials. How do we do that? Sheena said that nationwide statistics can hide regional variations within countries. It’s important to look at each unique context to devise a policy solution that works to get kids in school. UNICEF and the UIS are working together to find out exactly who the out of school children are, where they live, and what are the particular barriers they face to going to school. This article tells you about their collaboration. Barriers to going to school include poverty, child marriage, child labour, disability, safety, war, and lack of infrastructure, cost, discrimination, among others. The exact barrier faced by a child in West Africa, however, may not be the same as one in South Asia or Central America. The evidence provided by the data, along with the local perspective are key ingredients to achieving a quality Universal Primary Education. Literacy, technology and data can all work together to get vulnerable children around the world into school.

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